Portugal minister says UK COVID-19 variant spreading rapidly across country

Thursday, 2021-01-21 08:48:42
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Healthcare workers wear personal protective equipment in Santa Maria Hospital Intermediate care unit, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Lisbon, Portugal, January 18, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)
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The more contagious variant of the coronavirus discovered in Britain is spreading rapidly across Portugal, pressuring the health service at a time when authorities are scrambling to tackle the country's worst outbreak since the pandemic's start.

Around 20% of new COVID-19 cases being reported are of the more transmissible variant, Health Minister Marta Temido told broadcaster RTP late on Wednesday, warning that number could reach 60% as early as next week.

Portugal's daily COVID-19 cases rose 40% on Wednesday from the day before to a record 14,647, with the national health system on the verge of collapse without enough intensive care beds or human resources to treat coronavirus patients.

"The health system cannot handle this level of infections," Temido said.

The European Union country of 10 million people, where authorities implemented a 15-day lockdown last week to fight the spread of the virus, also hit a record of 219 new deaths on Wednesday, up from 218 the day before.

"I feel that we are very close to the limit," Temido said. "Several hospitals in the Greater Lisbon (area) are in a complex situation ... the numbers we are facing are very powerful."

Temido said ministers discussed the potential closure of schools on Wednesday evening, but said a final decision would only be announced after a government meeting on Thursday.